Meet the Scientist: Evelyn Freres

February 24, 2020

Name: Evelyn Freres
Institution: University of British Columbia
Place of Residence: Vancouver, BC, Canada

What kind of science do you do?
I am an analytical geochemist, with a focus on isotopic geochemistry and multi-collector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (MC-ICP-MS). More specifically, I am studying the instruments and analytical methods that are used to analyse geological samples, and trying to improve the accuracy and precision of the isotopic ratios we obtain from MC-ICP-MS instruments.

How did you find out about the society?
Online (I believe because of Goldschmidt).

If at all, is the society beneficial to your studies? Your personal life? Why?
Yes. I love receiving regular updates (both through email and the Elements magazine) on the current topics being studied and/or published in the geochemical field.

To you, what is the most interesting thing about your field of research?
I study instrumental mass fractionation processes that happen inside or are associated with MC-ICP-MS instruments. The whole concept is interesting to me. I mean, the sole fact that the ICP source can reach temperatures higher than those of the surface of the Sun is just really cool to me. But if I had to pick just one thing, I'd say it is how multidisciplinary it is. I am studying the analytical methods used in one of the most widely used instruments in geochemistry, and I love that my research has the potential to be useful for so many fields within the geological, archeological, and environmental sciences.

Why do you think your field of work is pertinent to the world of geochemistry?
Because determining the composition of different samples and materials can provide scientists with an incredible amount of information that could not be attained otherwise. For example, Pb isotopes were used to determine the age of the Earth! And now it's currently being used as a fingerprint for pollution in honey from different parts of the Greater Vancouver area in my research group (PCIGR). Stable and radiogenic isotopic studies have been used to provide us with information about Earth's present and past climate. So, the applications of isotope geochemistry are almost limitless. This being said, the isotopic variations in natural samples can be really small, depending on the system and/or on the process that the material has gone through, which means that the study of these systems requires very sensitive, precise, and accurate measurements. Therefore, developing and improving the accuracy and precision of the analytical methods used to measure elemental and isotopic ratios is paramount in geochemistry.

What is one obstacle in your field of work that you wish you could overcome?
This is a tough one. But I guess if I had to pick something... I believe it would be how to improve the transmission of ions and the sensitivity of MC-ICP-MS instruments without adding any further sources of non-linear instrumental mass bias.

What is one unique memory you have from working in your field of study?
I was a trainee of a program called MAGNET (Multidisciplinary Applied Geochemistry Network), which allowed me to do an internship at the Nu Instruments factory in the UK! They're one of the leading companies in the manufacturing of state-of-the-art mass spectrometers, and being able to go there twice, and collaborate with their scientists was simply amazing!

If you could discover one thing in the entire world, what would that be?
I work with analytical geochemistry, and I'm deeply interested in paleoclimate and climate sciences, so I guess I would love to... find a solution to climate change.

If you could meet anyone, dead or alive, who would that be and why?
I'm not sure if this is counts or not, because I sort of already met him (though very briefly) during one of my visits to the Nu Instruments factory... but Dr. Philip Freedman. He is one of the main scientists responsible for the development of MC-ICP-MS instruments, and I was definitely kind of starstruck when I saw him.